MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block with a radio quiz. Which Dixie Chick is which?
Ms. EMILY ROBISON (Dixie Chicks): Martie and I sound a lot alike, so.
Ms. NATALIE MAINES (Dixie Chicks): I don't think ya'll do.
Ms. MARTIE MAGUIRE (Dixie Chicks): I have a way sexier voice.
BLOCK: That was Martie, I take it.
The Dixie Chicks are sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire and lead singer Natalie Maines. They took a break from recording over the last three years. They've all had babies during that time. They were also contending with the furious backlash from Natalie Maines' now famous remark just before the Iraq war critical of President Bush.
(Soundbite of song Taking the Long Way)
DIXIE CHICKS: (Singing) It's been two long years now. The top of the world came crashing down. And I'm getting it back on the road now. And I'm taking the long way. Taking the long way around.
BLOCK: Taking the Long Way is the title of the new CD from the Dixie Chicks. For the first time they wrote or co-wrote all the songs. Emily Robinson explains this time they couldn't be content telling other people's stories.
MS. ROBISON: Sometimes it's just about, you know, where you are in your marriage or Natalie has a grandmother with Alzheimer's and there's this song out of that and - so it's not all about, you know, I think a lot of people are reading into - because of the first single off this album, Not Ready to Make Nice, that it's all political and it's all about what happened to us three years ago. But it's really not. It's just about where we've come in the last three years as women and mothers. And we are so much closer to this album because it is all very personal and it is autobiographical.
BLOCK: You mentioned the song about a woman with Alzheimer's, the song Silent House, part of that song that I think is so interesting, you write, I will carry it on and let you forget, which seems like you're picking up the burden of memory from someone.
Ms. MAINES: Yeah, because I watched my Nonna, is what I call her, just slowly progress with that disease and, you know, when they start - the saddest when they know that they're forgetting, they're embarrassed and very saddened.
(Soundbite of song Silent House)
DIXIE CHICKS: (Singing) And I will try to connect all the pieces you left. I will carry it on and let you forget. And I'll remember the years when your mind was clear. How the laughter and life filled up this silent house.
Ms. MAINES: I'll get over the sadness of the song, but then I'll play it for my mom or my sister or my dad and then I'll start crying again, because they'll cry because it's the first time they've heard it. And my grandfather hasn't heard it yet. He'll have to turn his hearing aid on for once. But I also, you know, like the fact that he'll get to hear it.
BLOCK: Yeah. There's a good deal of anger on the album and a couple of songs that talk about I guess what you call the incident back in 2003, that's one way of putting it, in England when Natalie, you talked about being ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas, where you're from. I'm wondering first if you had any idea, Natalie, when you said that, did you imagine at all how big a deal that statement, those words would become?
Ms. MAINES: No. Or I would've thought of something way better to say. No, I said it, you know, in a club in London in front of maybe 2000 people, 1500, 2000 people and just being in London during that whole time before the war, they always grouped Americans together. Like we all thought the way that the president thought. Yeah, I felt like I just wanted to let those people know just because we're Americans and especially from Texas and play country music, you can't put us in that category. I didn't want them thinking that we believed in that war when we didn't.
BLOCK: Emily and Martie when you heard Natalie say that on stage what were you thinking?
MS. MAGUIRE: I had no reaction at all and I actually had to be reminded about what she said. Emily, you can tell.
MS. ROBISON: I felt like this rush of heat from the tip of my head to the tips of my toes. And not because I didn't agree with her wholeheartedly. I was just like, oh, shit. I knew it held some weight - oh, sorry, I can't say that on the air.
BLOCK: But you just did.
MS. ROBISON: Oh, poop.
BLOCK: Well, it turned into something so huge you were blacklisted on a lot of country music stations. I've seen photographs of this, I guess, Dixie Chicks Destruction Day in Louisiana that a radio station did, where there were, you know, tractors running over your CD and kids jumping on them. Did you know that you wanted to address that in some way in these songs? And how did you figure out how to do that?
Ms. MAINES: It is something we felt we needed to do personally kind of to get it off our chests. Because it was a huge part of our lives and maybe this song doesn't represent this, but it was a huge way for us to grow and none of the three of us would go back and want to change it, because it's opened our minds and made us more passionate about what we say and that our music needs to say something and mean something. And so in so many ways it's such a positive for us.
(Soundbite of Not Ready to Make Nice)
DIXIE CHICKS: (Singing) Forgive, sounds good. Forget, I'm not sure I could. They say time heals everything, but I'm still waiting.
Unidentified Dixie Chick: I mean with Not Ready to Make Nice, there's no opinions in there, there's no preaching, it's all, every single word, is fact and true and something that happened or a way that we felt. You know, there's not one wasted word in that song. When it talks about - what's it say about the mother hating?
Unidentified Dixie Chick #2: It's a sad sad story when a mother will teach her -
Unidentified Dixie Chick: - daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger. That came from some footage that we had outside of the show and a woman was actually holding like her two-year-old son, but she into the camera said I hate them, screw them. And then she looked at her two-year-old and said say screw them. And I just cried when I saw that, because that right there was how you teach hatred.
(Soundbite of Not Ready to Make Nice)
DIXIE CHICKS: (Singing) Made my bed and I sleep like a baby with no regrets and I don't mind saying it's a sad sad story when a mother will teach her daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger. And how in the world can the words that I said send somebody so over the edge that they'd write me a letter saying that I better shut up and sing or my life will be over?
BLOCK: Does it matter to you how this album does? I'm sure it does on some level, but how would you know if this album, for you, is a success?
Unidentified Dixie Chick: I personally want it to do well just to make a point that people can't organize and sabotage someone's art or career. But it's not just about if you're played on the radio, but to have the number one download on iTunes. You just feel sort of vindicated. Not about being right politically or anything like that, but just being right about free speech and being right that humanity isn't as insane as I once thought they were. Not, yeah, if you don't like us you're insane. I didn't mean to sound like that, but you know what I'm saying.
BLOCK: The Dixie Chicks. Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison.
(Soundbite of Not Ready to Make Nice)
DIXIE CHICKS: (Singing) I'm not ready to make nice. I'm not ready to back down. I'm still mad as hell and I don't have time to go round and round and round.
BLOCK: You can hear more songs from the CD, Taking the Long Way, at our website, NPR.org. You can also hear more from our conversation, where the Dixie Chicks talk about a death threat they received and Emily tries to disprove stereotypes about banjo players.